Northern Ballet rules with Egypt’s queen

Cleo's had her Red Bull today

WHEN I was five years old, I asked my parents whether I could take ballet lessons with my childhood best friend.
She was a tiny wisp of a thing – all colt-like and agile.  I,  on the other hand,  was not.

Since I was told I had the grace of a baby elephant,  I was discouraged from a career in dance,  so that’s the closest I’ve ever been to the ballet – that and watching Natalie Portman prance around in Black Swan.

But when I had the chance to see Northern Ballet Theatre’s adaptation of one of the most smouldering love stories ever to hit celluloid,  I decided to bury my wounded pride.

Cleopatra was one of the first ambassadors for feminism – a strong, beautiful queen who overcame exile to become one of Egypt’s most memorable rulers. 

Lest we forget that while she was busy reigning over a country she had not one,  but two,  powerful men falling at her feet.

NBT’s version retells history with a splash of artistic license. Prima ballerina, Martha Leebolt,  succeeds in portraying the Queen of the Nile as both seductive and strong-willed,  stalking across the stage en pointe to dispose of her brother-husband to become sole ruler.

This is a character with determination and there’s no shortage of passion in either act.  Her sensual unfurling from a carpet into the arms of Rome’s Julius Caeser (Javier Torres) marks the start of a brief,  intense love affair,  cut-short by his brutal gang-murder.

The fire however is between the bereaved lover and Caeser’s deputy, Mark Anthony (Tobias Batley), who passionately falls into her arms with disastrous consequences.

It’s a contemporary and accessible production with well-pitched musical direction setting each scene and colour-coded costumes providing a visual checklist of who’s who.

Expressive performances from the soloists speak louder than words and though some opening night nerves were apparent with the occasional wobble,  the chorus were delightful as silent narrators.

A powerful interpretation from artistic director David Nixon, NBT’s production gives Cleopatra a modern,  sensual twist.

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No assumptions attached

Ashton was bowled over by Natalie's impression of a human lollipop...

NO STRINGS ATTACHED: 15

RUNNING TIME: 110 mins

DIRECTOR: Ivan Reitman

STARRING: Ashton Kutcher, Natalie Portman 

THE first and only time I ever willingly watched an Ashton Kutcher film was in his ill-advised big screen debut, Dude, Where’s My Car.

Since then, I have perhaps wrongly assumed that the only character he is capable of playing is the bone-head frat-boy guffawing over bodily functions – essentially the same role that kick-started his career in That 70s Show.

Adding my preconceptions of the Iowan actor to the scepticism surrounding Natalie Portman starring in what essentially looked like rom-com fluff so soon after her Oscar-winning performance in Black Swan, the idea of No Strings Attached was met with utter cynicism.

 But colour me surprised when Ashton Kutcher actually pulled a credible performance out of the bag.

 Like the cat who got the cream, budding screenwriter Adam becomes child-hood friend Emma’s ‘friend-with-benefits’. She’s an emotionally crippled career girl who likes it casual and he’s just been dumped by his ex, who then starts dating his dad.

Adam figures he could do worse than licking his wounds with the Holy Grail of girls as Emma lays down the ground-rules: no snuggling, no jealousy, no staying over.

 Initially, it looks like a match made in heaven, but like girls all over the world who prefer to lie to themselves, Emma says one thing and means another.

With plans to keep her fling at arm’s length inevitably going array, she falls for his charm and nice-guy persona, unleashes her inner-commitment demon and ends up a crazy-girl stereotype, back-tracking on all of her good intentions.

 Oh Emma, you’re so naive.

The twist comes when her change of heart looks too little too late, but let’s not forget this is a chick-flick between two hot Hollywood A-listers, so the ending is a foregone conclusion.

For a rather base premise – two people using each other for sex – No Strings Attached is a quirky tale of modern romance.

For anyone entertaining the idea of a friendly tryst, it’s a rather rude awakening that humans tend to fail spectacularly at separating emotion from physicality unless both parties are completely truthful about any inconvenient feelings that may arise.

It’s not groundbreaking work, Portman is fairly two dimensional and Kutcher still does what he does best: wandering around half-naked looking typically ‘abulous’.  But considering the appalling marketing, the film is completely acceptable, and more so than the poster gives its credit for.

Portman pirouettes to perfection

 

Looking a bit pale, love

BLACK SWAN: 15

 RUNNING TIME: 110 mins

 DIRECTOR: Darren Aronofsky

STARRING: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Winona Ryder

BEFORE the cameras even started rolling, Natalie Portman spent 10 months at the barre and lost 20 pounds to play a prima ballerina in Darren Aronofsky’s much-anticipated Black Swan.

With a Golden Globe for Best Actress already secured and the hype machine on turbo, the film’s reputation precedes it, but can a film about ballet really be that interesting?

Artistic director Thomas (Vincent Cassel) axes his former protege Beth (Winona Ryder) in favour of the technically superb Nina for a new staging of Swan Lake.

Nina dances flawlessly, but her obsession with perfection strangles her ability to dance with emotion and when sensual ballerina Lily (Mila Kunis) is cast as her understudy, Nina feels threatened. 

As she struggles to connect with her dual role as the white and black swans, she descends into paranoia which is not helped by the suffocating presence of her mother (Barbara Hershey).

As Nina teeters on the brink of a breakdown, the line between reality and fantasy blurs.

It’s no coincidence that the only flash of colour in the film is pink and limited to Nina’s bedroom- a nod, no doubt, to her childlike fragility.

The rest of the film is pitched in darkness and shadow, with winding corridors and claustrophic dressing rooms that capture the muted mood before the storm.  

Bleeding toes, bulging ribs and burning ribbons personify the ballet world in all their graphic glory, but the gruesome distortion comes in the multitude of mirrors and shredding of skin.

Where the film falls flat is surprising: Ryder’s storyline is somewhat forgettable as the fallen star driven to madness and the tension between Cassel and Portman is lazily developed, though if you’re looking for steam look no further than that scene between Kunis and Portman.

Sequences from Swan Lake are superbly choreographed and danced mainly by Portman herself, but for anyone who thought ballet went hand in hand with beauty will get a shock – the only beauty here is twisted with an all-consuming obsession for  perfection.